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Accused Jamaican lottery scam 'kingpin' to plead guilty

Monday, July 17, 2017

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NORTH DAKOTA, United States (AP) — A Jamaican man accused of masterminding a lottery scam that victimised dozens of Americans out of millions of dollars has agreed to plead guilty in a deal with federal prosecutors in North Dakota.

The agreement signed by the defence and prosecutors on Friday calls for Lavrick Willocks to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy. Prosecutors will dismiss 65 other counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.

Defence attorney Joe Johnson didn't immediately respond Monday to a request for comment on why Willocks is choosing not to take to the case to trial.

Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter was out of the office and not immediately available to comment. Court documents say "the United States was willing to offer certain terms favourable to defendant in exchange for finality" in a case that has dragged on more than five years.

A change-of-plea hearing and sentencing wasn't yet scheduled.

Willocks will face a maximum prison sentence of 40 years, though prosecutors in court documents say they will recommend a shorter term in return for Willocks' admission of guilt. They did not list an exact recommendation.

The government also will recommend Willocks pay restitution. Authorities say the scam bilked at least 90 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $5.7 million.

Fifteen people are charged. Ten suspects, including Willocks, have been extradited to North Dakota and pleaded not guilty, with trial scheduled to begin Januyar 22, 2018.

Court documents don't say whether Willocks has agreed to testify against his co-defendants, or whether plea deals might be in the works for them, as well.

Two of the remaining five suspects are in custody in Jamaica awaiting extradition, and three remain fugitives.

The case began in North Dakota in 2012 when authorities started investigating after a Harvey woman lost her life savings of more than $300,000 to scam artists the previous year. The probe involves the FBI, the US Postal Inspection Service and the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs. Authorities have dubbed the case "Operation Hard Copy," a reference to lists of prospective victims' contact information used by scammers.

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